Kerslake, Friel Otten call out dark money PACs attacks; say they’re related to pipeline opposition

Two Democratic primary candidates — one an incumbent State Representative — say they’re being targeted dark money political action committees, neither of which appear to have filed required campaign finance reports.

Two Super PACs have launched television ads attacking environmental leaders State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten and Ginny Kerslake. The SuperPACs are registered at the same address, and have failed to disclose any of their contributions or expenditures. The Times has been unable to find any filing or contribution information from either PAC — and it appears neither filed their required contribution forms in May with the Department of State.

Although one series of ads attacks Kerslake for having roughly $60,000 in outside money supporting her 2019 run for County Commissioner — two groups, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania and Food & Water Action made the spend, it appears from Department of State (DOS) data more than $160,000 was spent by Stronger Pennsylvania to back Howard’s 2020 bid. Additionally, according to documents supplied to The Times, it appears that Howard initially filed campaign finance reports claiming $46,441.37 with no donors listed. An amended campaign finance report shows no contributions between Jan. 1, 2020 and May May 18, 2020. A late contribution report shows a total of two contributions on May 26: $500 from Marian Moskowitz, Chair of the Chester County Commissioners and $2,500 from PA SEIU, a public workers union.

Friel Otten and Kerslake are leaders of the movement to stop the Mariner East II pipeline project, the dangerous proposal that cuts through Chester County. Both women live less than 100 feet from the pipeline route, and have been outspoken against the fossil fuel industry, using their families’ and communities’ lived experiences as evidence and motivation for their advocacy. As such, the fossil fuel industry has targeted them repeatedly over the past several years.

”If we want a different kind of politics, at some point we need to not just ask for a different kind of politics; we need to vote for a different kind of politics, and we actually have to DO a different kind of politics,” Otten said. “Some days, that’s really hard, especially when the baseless attacks are personal, filled with falsehoods by faceless cowards. Voters deserve better, and our children certainly deserve a better example.”

“Special interests are afraid of us because we’re threatening to provide a real voice for residents of Chester County,” said Ginny Kerslake, candidate for State House District 167. “I can only hope that my opponent disavows these ads and allows the people of our community, to decide the outcome of this election, rather than dark money.”

The negative ads attacking Friel Otten have been running on TV for several weeks, paired with their website, multi-piece glossy mail campaign and a mobile video billboard that is driven around the Exton area. The SuperPAC behind the ads, Building for America’s Future, has failed to file any campaign finance reports, despite a reporting deadline on May 22, but the frequency and placement of the ads suggest a significant expenditure.

The negative ads attacking Kerslake, paired with robocalls, started just days before the June 2 election, and feature several oddities. The ad attacks Kerslake for “dark money” raised in support of her 2019 race for Chester County Commissioner, referring to the $60,000 spent by Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania and Food & Water Action as they campaigned on her behalf through an independent expenditure. This ad then highlights Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania as a reason for supporting Kerslake’s opponent, Kristine Howard. The ad itself is a contradiction, as it is being funded by actual dark money, likely from the fossil fuel industry, and probably on its own costs more than the amount of support environmental groups spent in support of Kerslake in 2019.

Rep. Friel Otten is running for re-election in State House District 155. Friel Otten ran as a first-time candidate in 2018, capturing 82% of the vote in the primary election and 54.6% in the general election.

Ginny Kerslake is challenging the incumbent Democratic Representative Kristine Howard in the 167th State House District. Kerslake has raised $24,000 and all her campaign contributions have been disclosed to the PA Department of State. Howard won the seat for the first time in 2018.

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